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November 7, 2019
12:15pm to 1:45pm
352 Haines
Laurie Hart

Shalini Shankar, Professor of Anthropology Interim Director, Asian American Studies Program, Northwestern University

“Entailments of Generation: Potential and Excess of a Fraught Social Category.”

Presented in collaboration with Discourse Lab: (CPSC lecture at 12:15 will be followed at 2 pm by Discourse Lab discussion of Shankar’s recent book, “Beeline.” Lunch will be provided.)

The social category of “generation” has been utilized to explain everything from puberty rituals to avocado toast. How generation is operationalized, remade, and indeed, generated by those who inhabit it and those who deploy it as a means of social categorization is far more relevant than when this concept was initially used to signal life-cycle events in small-scale societies. Today’s competing uses of generation range from social science theorizations of migration waves to demographers and marketers who use it to make sweeping claims about cohorts of millions. This paper offers a preliminary semiotics of generation today and explores it as an object of epistemological contention. Specifically, how does this category become meaningful to the young people contained within it, and what kinds of data animate it? Such a semiotics of generation complicates the notion of an overarching unity of experience and the naturalized assumptions upon which dominant definitions are based, while it also acknowledges the analytic value of this category. Drawing on ethnographic research collected with Generation Z kids at spelling bees (Shankar 2016; 2019), it will investigate the racialized presuppositions of generation as well as the potential of this category in creating new epistemologies.

Shalini Shankar is a cultural and linguistic anthropologist whose ethnographic research focuses on youth, media, language use, race & ethnicity, and Asian diasporas. She is the author of several books, including Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal about Generation Z’s New Path to Success (Basic Books, 2019); Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Consumers (Duke UP, 2015); and Desi land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley (Duke UP, 2008). Shankar is a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation, and has appeared in numerous media, including NPR, BBC, MSNBC, CNN, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the LA Times.

Culture, Power, and Social Change is concerned with a broad range of issues in sociocultural anthropology. As the name of the group suggests, we are particularly interested in how the workings of culture, and of different forms of power and inequality, play out in the contemporary world. And behind these two issues are questions of social change, that is, of the ways in which the rapidly changing world of today impacts people’s lives, and in turn, how people in different circumstances seek to bring about change in the world. CPSC I hosts talks by both in-house faculty members and visiting post-doctoral and faculty level scholars; CPSC II hosts talks by advanced graduate students. All CPSC events are open only to UCLA faculty, students, and invited guests.